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common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)




















common dandelion


The common name derives from the French 'dent de lion', meaning 'lion's
tooth', which refers to the deeply toothed, deep green leaves, which are
arranged in rosettes. The downy seed heads are familiar to children as
dandelion clocks, which are used to 'tell the time' by the number of blows
taken to remove the seeds. Vernacular English names for the dandelion
include 'wet-the-bed' and 'pissy-beds', which refer to the belief that just
touching part of a dandelion can cause bed-wetting.


Chondrilla taraxacum (L.) Stokes
Crepis taraxacum (L.) Stokes
Leontodon taraxacum L.
Taraxacum almaatense Schischk.
Taraxacum sylvanicum R. Doll
Taraxacum taraxacum (L.) H. Karst.


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of common dan-

delion is Taraxacum officinale F.H. Wigg. Phenotypic and genotypic
variation of this species have been studied in North America, but results
of those studies did not lead to the recognition of microspecies.This group
is, therefore, often treated as a 'complex' consisting of around 200 micro-

species, and is typically treated as a species aggregate, denoted
as 'Taraxacum officinale agg.'


Specimens of Taraxacum officinale with deeply lobed leaves are  diffi-

cult to distinguish from those of Taraxacum erythrospermum (redseeded

dandelion) when fruits are missing. Usually, however, early leaves of the

former are much less deeply lobed than those of the latter, which are more

consistently lacerate throughout development, though broadly winged
initially. The two taxa are easily distinguished in fruit, the red cypselae of
Taraxacum erythrospermum standing out from the dull olive ones of
Taraxacum officinale.


NATIVE STATUS: Native and introduced, United States and Canada.




Habit: This introduced perennial plant consists of a rosette of basal leaves

and occasional flowering stalks.


Leaves: The basal leaves are individually up to 10" long and 2½" across.

The typical basal leaf is broader toward its outer tip than at the base (ob-

lanceolate) in outline, although it is more or less lobed (pinnatifid) along

its length. These lobes are triangular. The margins are slightly wavy and

irregular, and sometimes coarsely dentate. There is a prominent central

vein along the length of each leaf that is hollow and contains milky juice.

This vein is usually green, but it sometimes becomes reddish green toward

the base. The leaves are usually hairless, although young leaves are some-

times slightly pubescent. From the center of the rosette, one or more flow-

ering stalks are produced that are up to 18" tall, although usually 12" or

less. Each slender stalk is round and hollow, and contains milky juice. It

is usually light green, sometimes becoming light reddish green toward the

base. There may be some appressed cobwebby hairs along its length.


Flowers: At the apex of each flowering stalk, there is a single yellow flow-

erhead about 1-2" across. This flower- head has about 150-200 yellow ray

florets and no disk florets; the ray florets spread outward from the center.

At the base of the flowerhead, there are inner and outer bracts that are green.

The inner bracts are linear or linear-lanceolate and appressed together to

form a cylindrical tube around the ovaries of the flowerhead. The outer

bracts are linear-lanceolate and sharply curve downward. The flowerheads

are produced sporadically from early spring to late fall; they are most like

to occur during the late spring or early summer. There is a pleasant floral

scent that is somewhat musty and pollen-laden.


Fruit/Seeds: Each ray floret produces a single slender achene that is light

brown, light gray, or slightly olive green. An achene has 5-10 longitudinal

ribs with tiny teeth toward its apex. A long slender beak connects the

achene with a tuft of white hairs. This beak is 2-3 times as long as the

achene. Collectively, these tufts of hair produce a spheroid mass that is

white and feathery in appearance. The achenes are dispersed by the wind.

The flowers can produce around 2,000 wind-dispersed fruits.


Roots: The root system consists of a stout taproot that is up to 3' long (if

not more). This taproot contains milky juice and is somewhat fleshy.


REGENERATION PROCESS: This plant spreads by reseeding itself.
Plants can also regenerate from pieces of the tap root. It can form large


HABITAT TYPES: Common dandelion was introduced to North America
from Europe. Habitats include lawns, gardens, degraded meadows, vacant
lots, and sunny areas along roads and railroads. Dandelion has little capa-

city to invade high quality natural habitats, always preferring open areas

that are disturbed and degraded by human-related activities.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Common dandelion prefers full sunlight,
mesic conditions, and a soil that consists of loam or clay-loam. Partial
sunlight is also tolerated. This plant can be very aggressive, and can re-

generate from small pieces of the taproot.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: It is perennial, and flowers throughout
the year.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common dandelion has been reported
in all states in the United States and all provinces in Canada. Common
dandelion is one of the most widespread and ubiquitous plants in North
America. It is the most widespread dandelion in temperate North America,
though its abundance decreases in the arid south.




IMPORTANCE AND USES: Because it can bloom very early or very
late in the year, the nectar or pollen of the flowerheads are a valuable
source of food to some pollinating insects, especially bees. The nectar or
pollen of the flowers primarily attracts long-tongued bees, short-tongued
bees, and bee flies. Among the bees, are such visitors as bumblebees,
honeybees, mason bees, halictid bees, and andrenid bees. The foliage of
dandelion is eaten by many kinds of insects, including the caterpillars of
several species of moths. Most of these moths are polyphagous, as their
caterpillars will feed on a variety of low-growing plants. In the eastern
states and the midwest, only the goldfinch and the English sparrow eat
the seeds to any significant extent. While the foliage is somewhat bitter,
it is eaten occasionally by various mammalian herbivores, including
livestock, rabbits, groundhogs, and deer.


Although generally regarded as a weed, dandelions have many uses, both
culinary and medicinal. It is a scientifically proven diuretic and laxative,
and has also been used as a tonic, to treat rheumatic problems, and as a
blood purifier. Young leaves and flowers are used in salads, potherb, stir-
fries and other recipes (The leaves are high in vitamins and minerals), and
the root can be dried to make a substitute for coffee, a practice that was
common during the rationing of the Second World War. When the flower-

heads develop, however, the foliage becomes increasingly bitter and tough.

Sometimes the flowerheads are used to make dandelion wine. Most people

regard dandelion as a pernicious weed that can be difficult to control or

eradicate; therefore, even though the flowers are quite attractive, it is not

used as an ornamental.



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